Peace, calm and wisdom for all at Walden Pond

Printed from:

Only 20 miles from Boston, a lake sits quietly glistening — surrounded by sweet-smelling pine and oak trees. It can be seen dotted with visitors of every walk of life: elderly couples treading in the water, toddlers splashing in the shallow perimeters, and youthful athletes making steady strokes through the pond’s diameter.

Despite this society of joyful intruders, an inescapable feeling of calm transcends the area. The pond is not only bewitching, but has the solemnity of a designated historic landmark. It was there, in 1845, that native Concord resident Henry David Thoreau began writing his famous book Walden; or Life in the Woods.

A quaint gift shop near the parking lot is filled with fun facts about Thoreau’s exactly two-year, two-month, and two-day stay at the lake. For example, he built his cabin on land owned by his friend, the Transcendentalist Movement leader Ralph Waldo Emerson. Thoreau also managed to build his entire house for only $28.12, which would have been around three months salary at the time.

The truly alluring attraction, however, is the wilderness itself. Winding back around the water is a trail leading to the site of the writer’s former cabin. Stone columns now stand as sentries, outlining where the 10 foot by 15 foot log cabin once sat.

It was on that spot of earth that Thoreau penned A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers (his first published work), multiple lectures, and of course, Walden itself.

Engraved on a sign, a mere few feet away from where the passage was likely conceived, are the words:

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately,
to front only the essential facts of life,
and see if I could not learn what it had to teach,
and not, when I came to die,
discover that I had not lived.

Despite having “went to the woods,” Thoreau kept three chairs in his house—using “one for solitude, two for friendship, three for society.” His many visitors included Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Amos Bronson Alcott, and Alcott’s daughter Louisa May.

Thoreau walked into town “every day two,” and it is widely believed that he (as any youngest boy would do today) had his mother do his laundry.

Thoreau was many things: a teacher, a Harvard graduate, a philosopher. But what brought him to Walden was his role as a transcendentalist. In a chapter of Walden titled “Where I Lived and What I Lived For,” he explained:

We must learn to reawaken and keep ourselves awake, not by mechanical aids, but by an infinite expectation of the dawn, which does not forsake us in our soundest sleep. I know of no more encouraging fact than the unquestionable ability of man to elevate his life by a conscious endeavor.

The purpose of Thoreau’s stay at Walden Pond was to live intentionally—to consciously appreciate and elevate everyday experiences. To simplify. In this way, even walking could be entrancing.

“It is a great art to saunter,” Thoreau famously said.

This desire is perhaps the legacy that the lake carries on. It is hard not to be galvanized by the beauty that dwells there.

Thoreau himself was transfixed by the water, which he described as “a clear and deep green well.” The lake, created long ago from a retreating glacier, has maintained a gem-like quality, reflecting blues, greens, and yellows, like a prism held to the sun.

The Walden Pond of today is likely far from what Thoreau gazed upon from his cabin in the woods. The trees have grown denser, the forest darker, and the solitude has been disrupted.

Yet despite these changes, the sublime beauty of nature and its simplicity still exist. The Thoreauvian philosophy of reducing and fronting “only the essential facts of life” is almost inescapable.

A message from Henry David Thereau at Walden Pond.

A message from Henry David Thoreau at Walden Pond.

Walden Pond is located at 915 Walden St. Concord in Lincoln and is open to the public from 5 a.m. to half an hour past sunset.  Visitors are welcome to swim, picnic, hike, fish, cross-country ski, snowshoe, and use canoes and electric motor boats. There is a daily parking fee of $8 dollars for MA vehicles and $10 for non-MA vehicles.

Sarah Jean Seman is a freelance writer based in Washington D.C.